CSA offers Test to Zimbabwe
CSA has proposed a Test between South Africa and Zimbabwe to be played before they host Australia for a Test and Twenty20 series that begins on February 12, ESPNcricinfo has learned.
Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) is unlikely to be able to commit to the fixture because of their impasse with their players: they are on strike over non-payment and their domestic competitions have also been put on hold.
With no end in sight to the boycott, one player, who asked not to be named, said he thought "the chances of the match happening are very slim because we have not been playing any cricket at all".
A second source from Zimbabwe said even though some players "welcomed the opportunity", others are wary of visiting South Africa given the team's long break from competitive cricket.
Zimbabwe's last outing was almost four months ago, against Pakistan in September. Since then, a tour by Sri Lanka was cancelled for financial reasons and although the domestic four and one-day competitions kicked off, they were stalled after one round of the former and three matches of the latter.
In case Zimbabwe are unable to make the trip, CSA are also considering an alternative. Members of South Africa's Test squad would play against a Zimbabwe A side in Johannesburg in early February. That would most likely coincide with the Australians' tour match in Potchefstroom against a South African Invitation XI. The Invitation team will probably not consist of South Africa's 'next best' as was the case on 2011, but promising players in the set up.
CSA insisted that the offer has been made for cricketing reasons and is not an attempt to build support in the ICC crisis over the future make-up of international cricket.
Zimbabwe's players went on strike in mid-December over non-payment. They also refused to restart the fixtures in January, insisting they will stick to the "no pay, no cricket" policy. Their stance led to the limited-overs incoming tour of Afghanistan, which was scheduled for January, also being cancelled.
Salaries are outstanding as of November last year and ZC's financial situation has meant they cannot provide any guarantee as to when they will be able to pay their players. It is understood they are currently in talks with a local corporate to sign sponsorship and if they manage to secure the deal, domestic cricket could resume by next week. That would be the only practice Zimbabwe get ahead of the World Twenty20, unless they take up South Africa's offer to play a Test, which could be staged at the Wanderers.
There is a possibility that this sudden move by CSA is to gain ZC's support when the draft proposal for a revamp of the ICC's administrative structure comes to vote at the Executive Board's quarterly meeting in Dubai on January 28 and 29. CSA's position on the draft, which will concentrate power with the BCCI, ECB and CA, is that the idea was "fundamentally flawed" and "in breach of the ICC constitution."
CSA rejected suggestions of using the match to gain Zimbabwe's backing, saying tat as they have not played Tests since the Boxing Day fixture against India, and with the first-class competition on hold because of the domestic T20 tournament, team management wanted an additional fixture ahead of the Australia series.
"The request to play Zimbabwe is purely for cricket reasons," a CSA official said. "Our team are notoriously slow starters and the request was made long before the ICC revamp proposal came."
ZC have made no comment on the proposal but are understood to traditionally vote in favour of the BCCI. One insider questioned whether the match would be enough to sway Zimbabwe to endorse South Africa's position. "I can't see how Zimbabwe would benefit from a match against South Africa. They won't earn any money from coming here. Maybe if CSA had suggested going to play in Zimbabwe and ZC they could sell television rights, they may be interested."
South Africa are also due to tour Zimbabwe in July but the possibility of that series going ahead is in doubt, because of ZC's financial situation.
This story was updated with additional information at 1800 GMT on January 23
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent